February 16 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

 

Crosby Coastguard Station is under threat as part of the reorganisation of the Marine and Coastguard Agency.

 

I have been lobbied by many staff and by residents who are worried at the loss of what after all is a new facility which was rebuilt only a few years ago.

 

The government is consulting on plans to centralise the service and to have two 24 hour centres with a further six day time centres. Either Crosby or Belfast would be one of the day only centres.

 

Along with a number of other MPs, I called for a debate on the future of the coastguard so that we can explore the government plan and raise the issues of concern. These issues include the loss of local experience, the fact that the staff who drew up the proposals do not have recent front line experience and the fact that a risk assessment has not been carried out.

 

When you add in the fact that the last results of the last re-organisation have not been evaluated and that a report of the Transport Select Committee from 2004 has yet to be considered it is easy to see why there is such cross-party concern at the plans.

 

Along with members of the Conservative, Lib Dem and Scottish Nationalist parties I met the back-bench business committee to ask them for time for a debate.

 

The committee is given time for debates on topics raised by backbench MPs. MPs who have cross-party support have the best chance of securing time for a debate and it looks like there will be such a debate soon.

 

This is an issue of safety and cannot be just decided on the basis of cost. New technology can be a huge benefit but it has to be introduced in the right way otherwise it can cause more problems than it solves.

 

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The Prime Minister has been defending the Big Society.

 

Now, the idea of Civic Society is not new. I have been invited to Formby Civic Society dinner next month and am looking forward to the event. Many people volunteer and happily give their time to help others.

 

For example, I am a qualified sports coach and have coached youngsters over the years. My daughter goes to Brownies in Maghull and my son Beavers. They both do gymnastics and all of these activities are only possible because people give up their spare time to help others and to do something they enjoy.

 

This is a good opportunity to say, thank you to those people who volunteer their time to help. The trouble with Mr Cameron’s approach is that it has come at the same time as the biggest ever cuts in council grants and councils are the biggest source of funds for many voluntary groups.

 

The grant cut to Melling Brownies makes it much harder for the volunteers there and the cuts to Duke of Edinburgh, to Sefton Women’s and Children’s Aid and to Sefton Young Carers mean that the volunteers just can’t make up he shortfall.

 

The voluntary sector does a fabulous job  but it can only be effective as a partner of the public sector and with money for many of its activities. The idea that volunteers will just step up and take over those services which are being cut just does not stack up.  

 

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I visited 156 Transport Regiment in Allerton along with my colleagues, Maria Eagle, Steve Rotheram and Luciana Berger for a briefing on Merseyside armed services.

 

It was helpful to hear concerns that senior military personnel have especially about government plans to rely more on the Territorial Army.

 

The TAs do a great job but they don’t have the same experience or training as the regular army. I couldn’t help thinking that government plans to cut the regular services and rely on TAs and reservists was a prime example (or Prime Minister example) of overdoing the Big Society.

 

Maybe Mr Cameron thinks he can defend this country and fulfil our international obligations using volunteers. Personally that is one cut too far for anyone and maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board when it comes to the Big Society if relying on volunteers is what he has in mind.

 

I am due to visit Altcar Training Camp soon and it will be interesting to hear what they think of the Strategic Defence Review.